Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Automotive Industry

7:07 pm

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier today there was an urgency motion moved by the opposition which, unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to speak to, so I would like to take this opportunity tonight during the adjournment debate. The urgency motion was moved about the need for the government to make an urgent offer of co-investment to Holden to secure their investment in South Australia, with the implication that the government is not acting and does not care about those jobs. I wish to place on record the fact that that is not correct. The coalition want viable car manufacturing in Australia. We have made our timetable for the response clear from day one, and General Motors Holden has not raised any concerns about the timetable. In fact, the minister has been very proactive. I, along with a number of my coalition colleagues and members of the opposition from both state and federal level, visited Holden and spoke with the general manager.

There were confidential discussions which took place between General Motors and the minister about the need to secure the future of Holden. The coalition and, in particular, Minister Macfarlane respect the confidentiality of those discussions. We do not seek to make them a political stunt. One of the articles that was written in the press in 2012 when Labor were in power says:

One important attribute is that Labor has lost its ability to differentiate between industry policy and political stunts.

Today, we saw an example of that. This was originally submitted as an matter of public importance, but it was withdrawn and then put back as a matter of urgency. Why? So that the opposition could try to make the political point that we had voted down their urgency motion. So politics gets in the way of good policy outcomes. It is not just money that is required. Money is important on a commercial basis, but we also need stability in the environment. Stability is something that General Motors Holden has come out and publicly spoken about before. When the opposition were in government, they broke around $1.4 billion worth of the promises to the industry and changed policy on such a frequent basis that it prompted Mike Devereux the GM of Holden to say:

We cut a deal with the Prime Minister … in 2008 … and then midway through the rules of the game changed.

So it certainly worries a multinational parent when sovereign risk begins to be something that is bandied about in terms of doing business with Australia.

Sovereign risk is something that, until Labor had power over the last six years, was never mentioned with respect to Australia, but we now see it not only in mining but also in the automotive sector.

When Labor took office, car production in Australia was 335,000 units a year. When they left, it was down to 221,000 units a year. The Howard government, which I had the pleasure to be a part of, helped deliver to the sector a 22 per cent increase in employment, a lift in productivity of 21 per cent and a rise in exports of 174 per cent. I had the pleasure, as the then member for Wakefield, of being there when Holden began their long-awaited third shift and put on additional workers. That shift raised production by up to 780 cars a day.

Money is important, and Holden has received almost $2 billion worth of government funding since 2001. Note that date—2001, the coalition was in power. The automotive assistance scheme and the Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme gave a substantial amount of money to the auto sector. There is still $1 billion remaining in that scheme until 2015 and another $1 billion in the scheme from the start of 2016. But it is not just money. Go back to March 2012 when we saw the $275 million assistance package for GMH. It was said that this money would guarantee that they would maintain operations in Australia for at least the next decade. We see that that is not happening.

So money alone is not the answer. We also need the broader environment. That is why this government is committed to getting rid of things like the $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax hurdle that Labor put in the way of Holden. But, most importantly, we need Labor to get out of our way so that we can govern and get rid of things like the carbon tax, which is costing an extra $400 per vehicle. The Australian people elected us with that mandate. The Labor Party should get out of our way and allow us to secure Holden's future. (Time expired)